You think Romney was a jerk in 1965? Look at the guy now.
Romney’s days as a gay-bashing high school bully, back in 1965, have been making headlines this week, causing his supporters to cry foul. It was, after all, 1965, they argue. To some, that means that what we call bullying, a hate crime, was just clean old prep school “high jinks” back in the day. You see, those were the good old days, back before all those dang guvmint regulations y’all know as civil rights laws began their attack on “traditional American values.”
Other Romney supporters decry dredging up 47-year-old news—reaching all the way back to the time when Barak Obama was an infant in Kenya, they’ll tell you—to find dirt on their candidate. Here I’ll concede that they might have a point, but not the point they think they have. At the risk of sounding like some sort of goody-two-shoes, I must admit that my teenage “high jinks” never involved a sadistic, gang-executed, criminal assault against someone who my posse of mean friends considered weak, different, and vulnerable. But hey, the Mittster and I grew up in different worlds. So I’ll concede to the selectively voiced liberal ideology of his Republican base and write off Mitt’s youthful sadism as the inevitable result of his social environment.
Never one who wants to execute a 17-year-old for his or her crime, I’ll agree that Romney’s record as a youthful offender, no matter how repugnant it may be, should be off-limits. At least as an ode to this sudden outburst of Republican liberalism. But my reasoning is a bit more complex than that of his hypocritical supporters. I’m less concerned that Romney was a bully back in 1965 than I am that candidate Romney is an unabashed and unrepentant bully in 2012. This I find both more important and mysteriously underreported in the media. All the more mysterious because the bully Romney is not an aberration in either Republican or reactionary politics.
Let’s look at his predecessors. The last Republican nominee for president, John McCain, would regularly fly off the handle at opponents, livening up CSPAN’s tedious broadcasts and the occasional news report with in-your-face attacks against his adversaries, performing the Senate version of a rabid hyena about to pounce on his prey. Back in his prep school days, McCain was allegedly known as “McNasty.” Later, in the Senate and on the campaign trail, he regularly, publicly attacked colleagues with outbursts of profanity, once allegedly calling his wife Cindy a “cunt” in front of reporters.
Or let’s look at the last Republican in the White House, George W. Bush. Sure, on a good day he came off like the kind of guy you’d like to sit down with and kick back a cold one. These were his Dr. Jekyll days. On his Mr. Hyde days, he’d go off, for example, like he did as governor of Texas, jokingly mimicking the pleas of a questionably convicted death row inmate who petitioned him for a stay of execution. He joked about it and refused the stay, and then the state put her to death. That’s a real bully.
Let’s look at Romney’s fellow GOP candidates for president. Like George W. Bush, Michelle Bachmann also comes off sometimes as personable—not your stereotypical bully. But while soft-spoken and semantically polite, Bachmann’s sugar-coated hate speech has been having horrific consequences on the ground in her own congressional district, where her rhetoric rings the loudest. In one recent two-year period, nine teenagers committed suicide, mostly after being bullied when fellow students suspected them of being gay—or something they perceived as gay, or gay-like, or what they thought might be gayish. Bachmann’s anti-gay hate speech has contributed to turning her old high school into a sort of killing field of anti-gay bullying, with the school district’s staff under orders to not show “personal support for GLBT people.” When an openly gay 15-year-old hanged himself after enduring freshman year at Bachmann’s alma mater, his mother delivered a petition with over 140,000 signatures to Bachmann, calling for her to denounce the gay bullying that took her son’s life. Bachmann never responded. That’s a stone cold cowardly bully.
Then there’s Newt Gingrich. The moments when he is not a bully acting out are rare.
Ron Paul and pink bowling balls
Bully culture is extraordinarily well represented among this year’s crop of Republicans. Anyone who has ever spoken in public against Ron Paul has felt the wrath of his army of thugs—who threaten, harass and cyber-bully anyone who challenges their sloganeering with empiricism—all while the candidate acquiesces with his silence.
A Reuters reporter overheard Rick Santorum on the campaign trail in a bowling alley chide a small boy for choosing a pink bowling ball. Of course this episode pales in comparison to the vitriolic bile the former candidate normally slings in the course of a typical campaign speech.
Rick Perry, when pressed by CNBC reporter John Harwood about his silly insistence on questioning Obama’s citizenship, explained, “It’s fun to poke at [the president] a little bit and say, ‘Hey, how about let’s see your grades and your birth certificate.’” Understand? While questioning the Hawaii native’s citizenship might make candidate Perry seem anything but presidential, which is frankly rather stupid for a presidential candidate, it’s good high jinks. And it’s good fun not just for Perry, but as he went on to explain, “Donald’s [Trump] got to have some fun, so…”
That brings us to alpha bullies like Trump, whom psychologist Stanton Peele coined a “super bully.” Super bully Trump was even accused by a Scottish CEO of bullying the Scottish government by threatening to bankroll opposition protestors.
Then there are the blasphemous bullies, like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, who claim to speak for an angry, misogynist, homophobic god who reigns down destruction such as, they actually claimed, the 9-11 attacks, to punish America for not adhering to Falwell and Robertson’s commandments. Recently the bully pulpit moved into the US Capitol, as House Speaker John Boehner invited a group of “religious leaders” to use the Capitol’s Statuary Hall for an event headlined by Jim Garlow, who termed gay marriage as an attack by Satan, comparing such marriage to marrying a horse, and David Barton, who once said AIDS was his god’s punishment for being gay. These are the uber super bullies, modeling bully culture to millions of their followers.
Then there’s the propaganda wing of the Republican party, with fire-breathers like Bill O’Reilly, whose signature phrase is a loud “Shaddup,” often followed by a few more repetitions at increasing volume. Or Glen Beck and his calls for armed bullying. Or Rush Limbaugh, who in reference to Romney’s prep school sadism, just lamented that 1965 was “a great year” because “bullying was legal.” Of course, lots of other stuff was illegal back then, such as black folks marrying white folks, which was still outlawed in a handful of Southern states. It’s no wonder that Limbaugh and the whole plethora of prominent Republican bullies want to return to those good old days, to support onerous government regulations that strike a blow against marriage and families, this time bullying another minority group.
I can go on. The radio airwaves are full of bullies. Statehouses across the country are populated by bullies. The US Congress is occupied by bullies—all modeling a bully culture amplified by a bullied media that won’t dare call a bully a bully. None of this should come as a surprise. The platform of the Republican Party is all about bullying in its most elemental sense—pitting the powerful against the powerless. I can’t see any other way to describe their zeal for defunding basic health and education services for the poorest, most vulnerable Americans. What Mitt Romney did in 1965 may or may not be newsworthy, but what he and his party are doing in 2012 certainly is. I don’t like bullies.